A lawsuit filed to prevent State Rep. David Eastman (R-Wasilla) from running for reelection is proceeding, after an Anchorage Superior Court judge ruled on Sept. 12 that the Alaska Division of Elections must enforce the state constitution’s disloyalty clause when it determines whether a candidate is legally qualified to run for public office.
With help from the hard-left legal group, Northern Justice Project, Former Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman Randall Kowalke is attempting to get a court order barring Eastman from reelection.
Kowalke, a left-of-center Republican, claims that Eastman’s membership with the national Oath Keepers group violates a state constitutional clause that prohibits residents from running for office if they belong to a group that pushes for the overthrow of the state or federal government. Kowalke wants the Division of Elections to remove Eastman from the November ballot so voters cannot have the opportunity to reelect him.
Earlier this summer, the Division of Elections reviewed a complaint by Kowalke in which he asked for Eastman to be nixed from the November ballot. The state agency, however, determined that Eastman was, in fact, a candidate in good standing, regardless of his membership with Oath Keepers.
The Division of Elections approved Eastman’s qualifications based off the fact that he fulfilled the age and residency, and citizenship requirements. It did not investigate the details of his Oath Keepers membership, saying that was not within its power to initiate such inquiries.
Judge Jack McKenna disagreed, ruling that the Division of Election is charged with determining the suitability of candidates and that part of this entails ensuring candidates don’t violate the loyalty clause.
According to the lawsuit, Eastman violated the clause by simply being an Oath Keeper member – not for anything he did or said.
The group’s former leader was charged – but not convicted – in the events that unfolded on Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol. Two members of the 38,000-member national organization have also pleaded guilty of seditious conspiracy to try and stop the certification of the presidential election. Despite the actions of a small percentage of it members, Oath Keepers, itself, does not officially call for the overthrow of the government, and neither has Eastman.
Eastman, along with other Alaskans and thousands of fellow Americans, was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, to peacefully rally with President Trump and voice concern about election integrity issues across the nation. Eastman never entered the Capitol nor did he partake in any violence.
Nevertheless, earlier this year, leftist activists, spearheaded by the Marxist-inspired Party for Socialism & Liberation-Anchorage, attempted to pressure Alaska House leaders to expel Eastman as a state legislator due to his Oath Keepers membership. When that effort failed, House Speaker Chris Tuck used his position to hold so-called “informational” hearings that served to disparage Oath Keepers, militias in general, and their conservative members.
Ultimately, the House took no further actions as a body.
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Oath Keepers is a loosely affiliated organization that is known to attract many law enforcement officers, emergency responders, government officials and military service men and women – some of whom are also militia members. Oath Keepers pledge to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and to refusal to obey unconstitutional laws. Critics say this encourages extremism that can undermine faith in government.
As things stand, Eastman remains an approved candidate for the State House where he has represented the Mat-Su since 2016, easily winning reelection in 2018 and most recently in 2020 when he took 74% of the vote in the general election. Eastman’s margins of victory are among the highest in the state.
Kowalke’s lawsuit, however, is continuing. His next move it to try and convince a judge to issue a preliminary injunction to block Eastman from appearing on the Nov. 8 ballot. A court date to address this has been set for Sept. 20. The larger case regarding Eastman’s qualifications to run for office will proceed to court in December, after the election.
Joe Miller, the former U.S. Senate candidate, is representing Eastman. He has argued that Judge McKenna’s order, if enforced, would grant vast, expansive and ultimately subjective powers to the Division of Elections to determine who is fit to run for elected office.